Female twist brings fresh perspective to Mercutio in RSC’s Romeo and Juliet
- Credit: Archant
When the Royal Shakespeare Company brings its critically-acclaimed Romeo and Juliet to Norwich Theatre Royal in January, audiences will gain a fresh insight into this most famous of all love stories as female actors take on several of the male roles.
Front and centre stage will be actor and writer Charlotte Josephine in the role of Mercutio – Romeo's mercurial friend who pays the ultimate price in the feud between the Capulets and Montagues when he is killed during a scuffle between the warring factions.
The RSC was last in the city in 2016 with A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play for the Nation. Directed by Erica Whyman, the production marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
Now Romeo and Juliet, also directed by Erica, will visit seven regional venues across the UK, arriving on its first stop-off in Norwich from January 29 to February 2.
Speaking to Judy Foster, Charlotte, who has played Mercutio since the production first opened, is relishing the opportunity to work with more youngsters during the tour.
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She said: 'They turn up on the first day really nervous and they grow in confidence. It is really lovely to see. So I hope they feel inspired. I'd be really proud if I'd inspired one of them.'
Romeo and Juliet boasts a youthful cast and Charlotte feels this helps make it more relatable for a younger audience.
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'It's helpful that Romeo and Juliet is studied in schools, so it's nice to come and see it live, and the two main characters are young, so I think younger audiences are up for it. I think they will feel it's a story for them.'
Audience reaction from younger theatregoers has so far been very positive with plenty of laughter.
'They're allowed to be raucous and that's what I love about theatre – it's live and we are all in this room together, experiencing this story together.
'So when we get a raucous reaction to someone kissing on stage or someone doing something rude on stage, that's great. At least they are engaged. The play starts off as a comedy really. '
One of the themes running throughout the play which strikes a chord with modern audiences is the use of knives and it should, Charlotte thinks, make people think about the impact of knife culture.
The cast met with the Ben Kinsella Trust, set up in 2008 to raise awareness about knife crime.
'The trust is looking at raising young people's sense of self through various activities and one of them is drama.
'They look at young people's self-esteem and how young people might not feel like they have a lot to live for or they don't value their own lives very much.
Getting the chance to play a key character like Mercutio has been a dream come true for Charlotte and she has brought maximum physicality and energy to the role.
'I think partly I was excited by the opportunity to say some words that have been forbidden for women for so long.
'Men always get to run around and do the sword fights and be sexy and cheeky, funny and naughty and rude, and women have to just stand there and look pretty and say a couple of lines in all the classic texts, and I'm really not interested in that.
'All of my role models growing up were men because there weren't the parts for women, so I hope young women in the audience feel inspired by what I am doing.'
Although it's not the first time that a woman has played Mercutio, she feels it is particularly fresh at the moment and hers is not the only character to undergo a gender transformation.
Erica Whyman also flipped the genders with the role of Prince Escalus (played by Beth Cordingly), Gregory (played by Donna Banya) and Sister John and the Apothecary (both played by Katy Brittain).
Charlotte said where possible the director had changed not just the genders of characters but their race, age, or class in terms of accent 'to open up doors for not only young actors but also for audiences to see someone like themselves on stage'.
Romeo and Juliet is at Norwich Theatre Royal on January 29 to February 2 at 7.30pm, with a 2pm matinee on Thursday and Saturday, and you can book in person at the box office, online at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or by phone on 01603 630000.